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My First 72 Hours As Covid-19 Positive

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Motlabana Monnakgotla on an assignment just before the lockdown in South Africa

FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalist on what it feels to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. He says he’s lucky to be well enough to see through the stigma and document his experiences.   

On June 5, at 12.44PM, I received a text message on my phone that I had tested positive to the novel coronavirus.

I had been writing about the virus and its effect on small business since the lockdown started in South Africa, but never once thought I would become my own subject this soon.

On the warm Friday afternoon, I had been writing a story on how entrepreneurs are battling the economic downturn when the message came with the words ‘Mr Motlabana Monnakgotla, kindly note…’ and figured it might be yet another promotional message on a new product or policy.

Originally, my symptoms had started with a flu the previous week, and it was definitely more potent than any flu I have endured all my life. I was weak, my forehead had a rash, my temperature was up and down, and I had never sneezed so much in my life.

Self-portrait, in isolation at home in Soweto

I did what I would normally do when sick; I got myself medicines from a local chemist and took rest but I was always tired.

It was not until I received a call from my editor and she heard my deep nasal voice, and insisted that I immediately get myself tested for Covid-19 that I thought I may have contracted the virus. I had been in denial until then.

I was saddened that within the 5km radius where I live in Soweto, Johannesburg’s sprawling urban township, clinics had no test-kits or equipment and it had been the case for a while. After a few days of search, I eventually found a clinic that did Covid-19 tests, not far from Baragwanath Hospital. The results were out the very next day.

“I have witnessed criticism and judgement and learned that there is surely a stigma around the virus, just like HIV/Aids.”

Between Friday and now, I have gone through a wave of emotions and experiences. I have witnessed criticism and judgement and learned that there is surely a stigma around the virus, just like HIV/Aids. I had communicated my condition to close friends and family on WhatsApp groups hoping this would make them more aware of the gravity of the disease because someone so close was now infected.

But there were those who twisted the knife in the wound further by reiterating that I am “carrying the virus” and saying I would die of it. The stigma around the virus is real.

On the bright side, I have also made some new friends since opening up about my condition. In the past 72 hours, I have received enough messages of faith and love.

As I write this in my room in isolation, with new eyes, I look at everything around me that I had taken for-granted, such as the framed pictures of beaming family members on the walls in the living room. Life is short, but it’s great to be alive.

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[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa

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While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.

The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed 11 million with the current figure being at 12,415,672.

The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.

The death toll continues to rise globally. It is currently at 557,925.

The U.S. leads with 135,828 deaths. Brazil is second with 69,254. The U.K is third with 44,602. Italy is fourth with 34,926, and Mexico is fifth with 33,526.

China, where the virus originated from, maintains that the country’s death toll is at 4,634.

The figure of the global recoveries stands at 7,241,644.

The African continent has 545,313 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 12,503. The continent has made 266,082 recoveries.

Here are the numbers in Africa:

Country Confirmed Cases Confirmed DeathsConfirmed Recoveries
Algeria14,65792810,342
Angola140661
Benin2707228
Botswana60124
Burkina Faso89453804
Burundi85145
Cameroon12,59231310,100
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)7506301
Central African Republic (CAR)2,2227369
Chad85073720
Comoros1762114
Congo72824221
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)9,702684,381
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)7,1891762,317
Djibouti4,704554,550
Egypt79,2543,61722,753
Equatorial Guinea1,30612200
Eritrea9639
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)4904249
Ethiopia5,8461032,430
Gabon5,513422,508
Gambia28124
Ghana18,13411713,550
Guinea5,404334,346
Guinea-Bissau1,46015153
Kenya6,6731492,089
Lesotho42
Liberia45832219
Libya4541063
Madagascar1,29010384
Malawi547669
Mali1,8091041,088
Mauritania4,4721291,677
Mauritius33710325
Mayotte2,298191,790
Morocco13,2152309,158
Mozambique5833151
Namibia3217
Niger98066885
Nigeria27,11061610,801
Reunion4951460
Rwanda5822332
Sao Tome and Principe66112177
Senegal7,0541214,599
Seychelles1111
Sierra Leone1,16951680
Somalia2,61888577
South Africa238,3393,720113,061
South Sudan1,6932749
Sudan9,5736024,606
Tanzania50921183
Togo53113299
Tunisia1,09649998
Uganda705299
Western Sahara918
Zambia1,358111,122
Zimbabwe383454

Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.

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Empty Roads, Occupied Minds

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With a deadly virus still lurking in the streets and tougher times ahead, traders in South Africa’s colorful townships desperately look to resuscitate their businesses with creative offerings online. 

It’s almost two months into lockdown in South Africa and the country’s townships, once bustling hubs of trade, are slowly bracing themselves, with every ounce of willpower left in them, for the unprecedented reality that is ‘the new normal’.

For many, the national shutdown and closed shutters have meant lost jobs, stalled incomes and empty pockets, not to mention a deadly virus stalking them in every street and alley. The small entrepreneurs here – the lifeblood of any economy – now on their last pennies, are still hopeful their re-evaluated strategies and revamped resilience will see them through this fearful nightmare, as the restrictions ease and the townships will slowly crawl back to life again.

Behind the respectful veneer of the lockdown, some of the smaller traders hustle on illegally, under the radar, dodging police patrols and armed surveillance. They have no choice but to stick to their street-smart ways, to survive and feed their families. 

In the township of Soweto, bigger, popular establishments such as The Box Shop on Vilakazi Street – the historic stretch home to Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the country’s former President Nelson Mandela – are looking to the future with great uncertainty, and have been forced to devise alternative digital strategies as lifelines for the present.

Sifiso Moyo founded The Box Shop, a lifestyle and retail outlet with his business partner, Bernard Msimango, and today, the street it’s located on, which attracted thousands of local and international tourists every day prior to the pandemic, is eerily quiet.

It will be a while until planes of international visitors land again, so the duo have chosen to go to them – online.

“For The Box Shop, we built hype around online and have taken the entire offering that existed in our physical infrastructure into a digital platform and that has made us into an innovation space, giving us access to a global audience. We are beginning to see our products being sold in places like Switzerland and the United Kingdom and we now have started harnessing partnerships,” says Moyo.

The website was launched in May, but the bigger vision for the entity was to start as a retail outlet and work backwards into the manufacturing space.

Moyo says the coronavirus taught them two things – to adapt digitally, and to work in the value chain.

The shop now also makes face masks, sold to public hospitals and NGOs.

A short drive from Vilakazi Street is a restaurant named Sancho, selling African cuisine and founded by Thato Mothopeng, a serial entrepreneur who also founded the popular annual Soweto Camp Festival.

Mothopeng is one of the few entrepreneurs in the tourism sector without a formal degree or training, but has had a roaring business nevertheless and is quite well-known in the circuit.

Mothopeng says all SMMEs are at a standstill because business thrives on human contact. But business also needs to be flexible, he adds.

“There are opportunities in the harshest environments. I am using this time to review my strategies. I am also not panicking because the country is managing the crisis; this is an opportunity for SMMEs to reflect because our people are sober now.” 

He had to let go of a few employees and is working remotely.

Further in the township of Soweto, Thembeka Nkosi, the founder of Le Salon, has also developed her own coping mechanisms.

Her shop is shut, but people still seek her grooming advice. As per South Africa’s Level 4 lockdown restrictions, salons and beauty parlors are not allowed to operate.

“This [lockdown] is very stressful, more especially now because other businesses are operating. I still can’t make money, I still have to stay at home and not work,” rues Nkosi.

In addition to getting to spend more time with her five-year-old son, she has recently started sharing her haircare tutorials on social media.

“Now that shops are open to buy hair products, I send video clips to my clients and that brings me joy, knowing that I am still useful to them; even though it’s not making me any money yet, at least I am interacting with my clients,” she says, looking at the bright side.

Ronewa Creations is yet another small business in these parts.

Founded by Lesego Seloane and Dinah Kgeledi, the business offers landscaping services, garden maintenance and water harvesting solutions, and employs seven full-time workers. None of these services are allowed in the current phase of lockdown.

“Now that our province is still on Level 4, it is really difficult to focus because when we were working out our plans, there was so much uncertainty and we didn’t know how they could actually be implemented,” says Seloane.

She is grateful the duo have been active on social media, running a garden makeover campaign and offering landscaping designs for free.

“We are using a three-dimensional technology that revamps the look of gardens to give people an idea of how their gardens could potentially look like in the end.”

Despite the challenges, the two keep sane by spending time with family.

“If the business fails, I fail. If I don’t come out of my down moment quick, then I will fail and the entire organization fails,” says Seloane.

You can detect the determination in her voice to overcome this period, come what may.

Like many around her staring fear in the face, she has no other choice.

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This Single Factor Could Force Another Coronavirus Shutdown, Goldman Sachs Says

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With new coronavirus cases rising in 26 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins, and the national conversation turning to whether those states rushed to reopen their economies too quickly, new analysis from Goldman Sachs suggests that in the coming weeks, hospital capacity (rather than case numbers) is the factor most likely to prompt another lockdown.

KEY FACTS

  • Goldman’s experts say hospital data is a more reliable picture of the spread of the virus nationwide than positive test results, which fluctuate with changes in testing trends. 
  • The analysts noted, however, that “there is probably a high hurdle for states to reinstate lockdowns.” 
  • As new cases continue to rise across the country, Goldman’s analysts also tracked which states currently meet federal reopening criteria based on four factors: symptoms, cases, testing and hospitalizations and fatalities. 
  • Only Arizona and Alabama fail in all four categories, the analysts say; symptoms and cases are on the rise, positive test rates are high, and hospitals are nearing their maximum capacities. 
  • On the other hand, 19 states meet all four criteria for reopening, including several former hot spots like New York and New Jersey, and the vast majority of states meet at least three out of the four criteria.

KEY BACKGROUND

Along with Alabama and Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida have also seen sharp upticks in infections in recent days. Florida reported a record increase in new cases on four out of the six days between June 15 and 20, for instance. The number of confirmed cases since the pandemic started has now swelled to over 100,000, and Gov. Ron DeSantis said the uptick is “clearly” the result of a failure to follow social distancing guidelines. With cases on the rise, some places—like Arizona—are forging ahead with reopening plans while others—in MaineOregon, and Kansas, for instance—are tightening up restrictions again.

Sarah Hansen, Forbes Staff, Markets

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